Friday, January 7, 2011

A Strange Marriage?

The surprising reaction to this article gave me a Hmmmm moment. Anybody in the power industry knows the environmental community has a history of blocking the development of coal, nuclear and assorted other power projects. Recently, large scale photoelectric projects have drawn the ire of the environmental community and all their obstructionist lawyers. The standard press on this issue has headlines like Photovoltaic Energy: Ecologists vs. Environmentalists, In California, it's solar panels vs. redwoods and Environmentalists in a Clash of Goals. This situation has been fodder for all sorts of morons who don't like photoelectrics or environmentalists or hygiene.

I had a thought today. What if the environmental community's firepower could be directed towards distributed photoelectric legislation? I mean, these enviros love fighting the utilities as it is. Stick it to the man and all that. Here we have a situation where the enviro lawyers could fight for distributed solar legislation as an alternative to simply fighting against mega-pv projects.

I'm old enough that directly after thinking I've had a good thought, I know to look around the internet expecting to find it's already been thought. Sadly for me, all my good thoughts so far have already been thought up. This latest thought and subsequent search for similar thoughts led to a similar result. Typically my reaction is... DAMN! but here my reaction is, RIGHT ON!

Overall it appears as though this idea is relatively new. As a test of sorts I wrote Ken Zweibel and asked him if he was still focused on Desertec type projects. His response was:

"I have been thinking a lot about this lately and coming closer to your viewpoint. I am still looking for more info on transmission costs, which are where the issue of cost differential arises...Quick answer: I think this is a hot topic and worthwhile of a lot of discussion."

Now... I have railed against Desertec type schemes in some of my posts. I don't think I ever called Ken out but I have certainly had him in mind when I wondered why the hell brilliant people like these ideas. Well... Today Ken made me proud. If a guy who has championed the most grandiose style of photoelectic power plants is giving things a second thought that's pretty cool as far as I'm concerned.

I'm tempted to write a few letters off to the Sierra Club and find out just how organized and well informed they are. At the end of the day, I can say with a straight face that I want to change the world for the better. I believe photoelectrics are a way to do this. Seems there's a real opportunity here... A real strange opportunity.

UPDATE: I've sent off several emails to several organizations: SolarDoneRight, basinandrangewatch, protectourlands and the head honcho Sierra Club.

The responses has been almost universally positive. A couple things to note are.

1. Nearly all these organizations (save Sierra Club) are run by volunteers. They are active people with lives of their own. You might not get a response from the first organization you contact but you will get a response eventually. What I've found is that these organizations are connected and trying to work together towards a positive goal. The goal is protecting the environment and promoting distributed solar development - generally in that order.

2. Sierra Club responded immediately and politely. The initial responder promised to send my letter up the the chain of command. What the higher ups think is left to be seen.

2a. The Sierra Club's former director of renewable energy development is a fellow by the name of Carl Zichella. Carl has taken a lot of flack for some of his decisions. Some of the folks I wrote to responded that Zichella is no ally to their efforts. I don't know if Carl moved on from Sierra Club voluntarily or was pushed out. I don't wish to speculate. What I do know is that he's pushing a similar agenda of big transmission via his position with the NRDC now so they (the NRDC) can basically be written off for the near term.

3. I've continued to think that getting the environmental community on board with lobbying for small PV vs. big PV is a good idea. But I'm starting to think that another entity might just kill big PV before the environmental community has a chance to become truly organized. This entity will be the developers that win RAM contracts and prove that smaller scale projects can deliver prices that the mega-pv developers won't be able to compete with. These RAM developers will show that their costs, while higher on a $/kWh level at the unit breaker are lower when transmission costs are added in. They will do this by pointing out that projects like the Sunrise Powerlink are very expensive and when you include those costs the mega-PV projects are mega-losers. This is nothing more than a theory... We will have to wait and see...

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